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A Tale of Sorrow And Survival; Boh Tragedy Wounds Yet To Heal

The stories of sorrow and survival of Bohare heart-wrenching as one visits the vibrant village.

Tribhuvan Tiwari
Photo: Tribhuvan Tiwari
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“Yahan jo beech mein nullah hai, bade bade patthar hain, logon ke ghar thhey, abb toh namo-nishan mit chukka hai” ( This empty space and breach you see now, had houses. Now, there is no sign of these houses left).

It was in this idyllic landscape, in the foothills of the towering mountains of Dhauladhar, 45 km from Dharamshala that Bhim sen lived. A gentle farmer whose life simply revolved around his family and fertile soil, he cultivated seasonal crops.

It was on July 12, 2021 after torrential rains in the Boh valley – Bhim Sen's homestead succumbed to the relentless force of nature, claiming the lives of his kin. Five of his family members, leaving behind a sole survivor—a married daughter, got washed away by the deluge leaving behind a trail of deaths and devastation. What is now seen is rubble and a battered village side, Yodha Ram, the former village head, pointed out as Outlook team reached Boh, on Tuesday. 

Vanshika , the life saver for her family during 2021 Boh Tragedy.
Vanshika , the life saver for her family during 2021 Boh Tragedy. Photo: Tribhuvan Tiwari
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Recalls Vanshika, then a young student and a survivor herself, "Our house got flooded with water, stones and mud. Three of us—my mother, sister and I were trapped inside unable to save ourselves. I thought we were going to die inside before anyone reached to save us. My little sense worked and I called my Sir (school teacher) over the phone since I had his contact, and asked his help to rescue us”.

By the time help reached, only Vanshika and her mother could be rescued. Yet, her phone call, a brave act, had saved several lives.

The stories of sorrow and survival are heart-wrenching as one visits the vibrant village, largely a Gaddi population (Nomads) with a mix of Rajputs and Scheduled Caste families—all living in complete harmony under the blue sky and cool breeze.

But it’s this tragedy that Boh has not been able to forget, admits Yodha Ram, an ex-sarpanch, who was an eye witness and a survivor and had his house washed away by the flash and landslide. 

His two sons and wife were also at home but had managed to save their lives, deserting everything inside, as calamity hit the village.

Initially, the villagers, when they saw gushing water entering houses and flooding the streets, were not frightened. They had assumed it was the result of torrential and relentless rains. 

But, soon when the word spread and shouts of "Bhago, Bhagao" were heard, the realisation dawned on the village that something grave was cascading down to wash away everything that existed here.

"We really don’t know what exactly happened that fateful day. Was it a cloud burst or a breach on the top of the mountain?” asked Chaman Lal, 67, a retired government servant, now running a shop, barely 25 meters from the site of the tragedy.

Chaman Lal says he neither remembered nor heard about such a massive calamity ever happening in this village or the whole Boh valley.

Ten people died and eight to 10 houses got completely ravaged within a few minutes on July 12,2021 around 10.15 am. Eight people were rescued. The village looked like a haunted place with cries of pain as people lost their near ones and families, their sole bread-earners. The dead also included a one and half old year girl.

Vivek Sheela, 65, who was hospitalised at Rajendra Prasad Medical College, Tanda (Kangra) came to know about the loss of her husband and son almost after four days when she inquisitively  kept asking her daughter why no body had come to her in the hospital for days.

“My daughter, who was attending to me, said the monsoon rains had disrupted the mobile and road network due to landslides everywhere. They were unable to contact or reach out her” she recalls with eyes filled with tears.

They were the only earning male members but now the family is shattered. My daughter-in-law, small kids and I- that is what is left with no hope to make both ends meet” an emotionally broken Sheela said.

Yudha Ram praises local Congress MLA Kewal Singh Pathania, who was first to reach and help in the search for the bodies and rescue. Following which, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur, had flew in. Administration, rescue teams, NDRF and the police had done an efficient job to search for bodies and get all injured treated in the hospitals.

Yet he regrets the fact that the families affected by the 2021 tragedy have not yet received any compensation for the loss of their houses and agricultural land. Only relief of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kins have been disbursed.

Life, though has started returning to normalcy over the past two years, which also saw state assembly polls changing the citadel of power. Boh’s moments of pain and despair continue to remind how dangerous life has become, living in the mountains, blessed by nature's bounty in abundance.

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Yodha Ram says global warming and climate change has its worst impact in the Himalayas. The way development has been happening around these mountains, has disturbed the nature. Building houses close to the nullahs—the traditional storm water channels, is the biggest cause of destruction.

“Nature says if you love me and protect me, I will not interfere rather bless you. This, unfortunately, is not understood,” he feels.

Pratap Jaryal, a farmer who still used bulls to plough his fields, is strongly in favour of sustainable development to save the mountain ecology from devastations and deaths that Himachal Pradesh saw in 2023 in Kullu valley, Kangra, Mandi and Shimla.

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As election fever grips, he reminds the political parties of the promises they made to the people to provide basic facilities of health, transport, jobs and quality education. Nothing concrete has been done. Boh, with its serene valley and waterfall, also has a huge tourism potential because this has remained untapped. 

Behind the echoes of loss and pains, the spirit of resilience and hope continue to endure as testament to the indomitable spirit of the mountains, in the face of adversity.

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